Winston Churchill fought a life-long battle with clinical depression. He characterized that depression as being a big black dog that bedeviled him. In "Mr. Chartwell," Rebecca Hunt takes that metaphorical description and makes it literal. Churchill's depression is literally a big black dog who gives his name variously as Mr. Chartwell (Chartwell being the name of Churchill's home estate) and Black Pat.
It isn’t an original set-up: two former lovers briefly reunite in Rome and sift through the ashes of their long-lost romance. Yet, Mary Gordon is such a skilled writer that she should have been able to pull it off. Her descriptions of Rome do bring the city to life, and she carefully develops both of the main characters. Still the book never quite lives up to Gordon’s usual standard.